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Nic Pizzolatto, the brooding poet behind ‘True Detective’

  • Los Angeles Times
  • Published Saturday, Jan. 11, 2014, at 12 a.m.

— When Nic Pizzolatto was 5, he had an epiphany. It wasn’t the usual childhood one about finger-painting or bike-riding or other regular kid stuff. It was that one day he would die.

“You know how people say that young people feel immortal? I don’t know what they’re talking about,” he said. “I was planning for how I would deal with my death in good conscience well before I even hit puberty.”

The moment captures Pizzolatto, one of the more colorful creative types to emerge in Hollywood in recent years and the force behind HBO’s “True Detective,” the Louisiana-set, time-jumping Matthew McConaughey-Woody Harrelson noir series that premieres Sunday. Though a first-time creator, Pizzolatto wrote all eight episodes of the anthology series and served as the series’ sole show runner.

Articulate, confident and a little death-obsessed, the 38-year-old former novelist brings with him a brashness that defies the schleppy image of the young TV writer and matches the profession’s more swashbuckling character – a personality that blends the obsessiveness of an Aaron Sorkin with the lyricism of a David Milch. It also features a level of self-mythology that involves, as he tells it, yanking his own novel shortly before publication, a seat-of-his-pants decision to leave academia for Hollywood and a childhood that matches the brooding poetry of his new show.

“Detective” is earning strong advance buzz for its rich characters and philosophical underpinnings. One of several scripts Pizzolatto wrote simply to get in the game, “True Detective” sparked a bidding war when it first was circulated in Hollywood and had executives salivating when he made his full pitch.

He penned it, he said, because the set-up allowed him to explore his preoccupations. “To achieve a personal vision that deeply investigates character, it makes sense to choose as a delivery vehicle a genre where an investigation is already under way,” he said.

“You can probably tell I don’t give a … about serial killers, and I certainly don’t care to engage in some sort of creative cultural competition for who can invent the most disgusting kind of serial killer,” he said. “This is just a vehicle. You could have engaged the same obsessions in a doughnut shop, but the show probably wouldn’t have sold.”

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